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March 23, 2018

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A Personal Reflection – PQ Alumni Student Testimonial

We always enjoy receiving letters from past students – who share updates on how they are doing, how their experience at Pacific Quest has impacted them and how life post PQ is unfolding.  This is a letter from a student to her therapist – what an inspiring testimonial to the powerful work that takes place here!

“ …I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience at PQ since leaving and just wanted to share some of my major takeaways with you since you were an integral part of my stay. I am so grateful for you and the role you played in my growth at PQ and beyond. Since coming home, things have certainly not been easy but I have learned so much and become such a stronger person in the process and I feel like I am really headed in the right direction at this point. I’m amazed at how much things have changed since I was in Hawaii! Looking back it’s sometimes hard to believe I’m still the same person. I thought when I graduated that I had learned a ton, and I did, but so much of that learning came after I had time to process the whole experience and live it out on my own.

Okay, I’ll warn you now, this is definitely the longest email I’ve ever written in my life, but I’m just so excited about all the realizations I had that I had to share them!

I still at times struggle with recalling treatment as a positive experience, mostly because it was just such a difficult time in my life, but as I was journaling the other day, I concluded the following… PQ taught me a lot of things – like how my happiness, life, and well-being are not dependent on my parents. Even though I love them, they don’t have the solutions or answers to everything and they shouldn’t be my reason for living. I need to live for myself because I am worthy of life and have a lot to hope for in the future. I also worked a lot on quieting my inner critic and developing more self-compassion. Acceptance was huge – accepting my feelings and present reality. For a long time I fought against and stuffed my emotions, but at PQ I learned to feel and express them in healthier ways. Although I remember feeling like all my independence had been taken from me (like how I couldn’t even go to the lua by myself at times), I really did learn a lot about being more independent and functioning and making decisions on my own, based on what I needed, rather than what I thought I “should” do. I also learned about setting boundaries with people. Other’s problems do not have to become mine. And I undid my distortion that adulthood sucks and that I didn’t want to grow up. In reality, both childhood and adulthood have their challenges and high points, but being an adult is really cool!

I learned about pushing through discomfort after taking the time I need to process, I learned about being okay with not being okay and letting my emotions out instead of bottling them. Man, I did a lot of letting out! I didn’t know it was possible to sustain that much emotional upset for that long or cry that many tears, but I think it was just everything I’d been holding in for my whole life finally pushing out. And I proved to myself that I really can make it through anything even when I think I can’t. I realized how much I want authenticity for myself and in my relationships. I learned to deal with and embrace difficult and vastly different types of people and to allow them to have their own beliefs while standing strong in my own. I learned that even when I think I can’t go on, or sustain more pain, or not hurt/kill myself, that I can live and be okay. I learned that sometimes it’s best to push through the pain and stick it out for the long-term goal to be reached. I learned that even when and sometimes especially if people know your weaknesses/struggles/faults/fears/failures, they can still love you.

I learned a lot about gardening and loved it! (Although it’s winter in CO and hard to grow things outside, I have a bunch of potted plants inside that I love caring for). I learned about the importance of balance. I learned how I can use my story to relate to and positively impact others and make a good change in both our lives by being authentic, truthful, and open. I learned that even with all the pain, life is worth living and I will never give up! I learned how many people love and want to support me. I gained empathy for more people and human experiences and suffering. (This whole experience really gave me a lot more empathy for my sister which has and will continue to help mend our relationship).

I learned to express my needs. I was honest and open and vulnerable more so than I’d ever been before with myself and others. I learned about self-reflection and how to ponder and explore what was going on. I learned to feel instead of stuff and it was so liberating! I laughed. I cried. I screamed. I sobbed. I wept. I yelled. I spoke. I found my voice and I was heard! I survived. I learned. I grew. I changed. And now I can thrive! I became more authentically me than ever before. I really did cry a lot and feel a lot of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, fear, depression, grief, and hopelessness – more than I ever imagined possible. And (and I say “and” not “but” because both were equally true) I also felt deep love, empathy, and compassion for myself and the people around me. I felt proud of myself (and I feel so proud of myself right now as I reflect on these things which is really amazing). I felt victorious and accomplished and happy and whole. On my last day, at my appreciation ceremony, eating dinner out by ocean front, my eyes brimmed with tears of joy and gratitude. It was by far one of my happiest moments (and I love thinking back to it – everything about it – the way the sun sparkled on the ocean, the way I was there in community with all those beautiful people I was lucky enough to call my friends and they were there to love and support me).

PQ was so hard, those 81 days, but it was oh so incredibly worth it! It saved and changed my life. I didn’t want to admit it for a really long time, but I needed PQ. I needed to go far away, get out of my comfort zone, be in a new place with new people, to first lose but then find myself, in a group of people who finally, really, truly, understood me and now I am finally starting to understand and love myself on a whole new level I never saw as possible…”

– PQ Alumni Student

May 3, 2017

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A Letter to My Therapist: One Year After PQ

By: PQ Alumni

I was a student at PQ last year. I just received my letter from a year ago* and I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate what you did. Words cannot express my gratitude.

I know that not all of the students at PQ take the program completely to heart all the time, and many of them do return to old habits after they leave, but I was not one of those people. Pacific Quest was a turning point for me in my adolescent life, as corny as that may sound. Without it, I’m honestly not sure where I would be today.

The gardening, the nature, the outings, and Huli all made a significant difference in how I thought and approached what my life had to offer. And most of all I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations together.

I’m in the last quarter of my senior year in high school, and I’ll be graduating in June. When I started PQ, I was sure I was going to drop out of high school, and college didn’t even seem like an option back then. Now I’m choosing between multiple colleges to attend in the fall, and sometimes I wonder how I made it this far.

My relationship with my family has improved drastically. I still fight with my mom sometimes, but who doesn’t? I talk with my dad a lot, and we actually go do things together, like going to the gym, and taking road trips to Lake Tahoe. I love my dad, and I like spending time with him, which is something I didn’t think was ever possible a year ago. Pacific Quest helped me learn to appreciate everything my family has done for me, and I want to thank you for saving us. PQ was a wake up call if there ever was one, and I am so grateful to be lucky enough to have experienced it. Soon hopefully I’ll be starting a new chapter in my life at college, which will bring its own set of challenges. But I have the confidence that I’ll be able to work through them.

Finally, I want you to know that if you ever feel like the kids you work with don’t have any chance of bettering themselves or you feel like you haven’t done enough to help them, that that simply isn’t true. Because there is one kid from California out there in the world, and he is forever grateful.

PQ Alum

*The letter this alumni is referencing is a letter that students write to themselves that PQ then mails out a year later. It’s an incredible reminder of all the hard work and progress they made at Pacific Quest.

November 16, 2016

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Moving Forward: The story of a PQ alumna

By: PQ Alumni Student

I didn’t realize how much of my life I was hiding from, and how much I didn’t know about myself, until the three months I spent at Pacific Quest.  Prior to going to PQ in February, I was in a severe depression. I hated every minute and everything about myself.  It was a time that I don’t wish upon anyone.  I hid behind alcohol, sex and shopping, anything that would avoid the idea of feelings, and moving past my pain. I was filled with anger, and major giddiness because the emotions were almost non-existent. I wanted nothing to do with the way I felt, and the fact that I was drowning slowly, falling into pieces I would not be able to pick up myself.  I pushed away friends, family, anyone who cared for me, and I refused to see therapists or take my medication regularly.  After a very dark few months and three days in a psych ward, I realized how much I needed help.

Pacific Quest alumni student shares her experience at PQ and beyond.

Alumni student working in the garden

When I first came to PQ, I fought it, not interested in anything, but as time went on and I learned more about myself I began to love it there. There was no doubt that the program was not easy, but the things I learned and overcame at Pacific Quest, I am convinced saved my life.  I found out at PQ, I have major childhood traumas, anxiety issues and my medications were wrong.  My therapist and the PQ guides helped me regain confidence, realize how incredible I can be, learn to channel my anger, my impulsivity, and cope without addictions taking over. They helped me get on the right medication track, and work out many great things with my family. I have never cried, laughed, yelled, struggled and enjoyed myself so much in my life. It was so worth it.

Leaving PQ was tough, it was like leaving a world of comfort, new strategies, a healthy living style and having to realize that the real world is tough.  I don’t want to go back to where I was, so I have to choose to move forward. I graduated from PQ into a transition program. I fought it for some time, but after about 2 months, I pulled it together. I began to remember all that I learned in Hawaii, and how capable I am. I regained motivation, and the capability to function.

I am now in college, doing excellent, enjoying it and getting the services I need to succeed. I am also working part time in the restaurant industry.  I have been making friends and I’m not pushing anyone away, and even with my family things have improved.  As for my anxiety, I used to get panic attacks to the point where I could not breathe; it felt like I was having a heart attack, with my body spasming.  I could not control it, or understand it, and I was very scared.  Since I graduated PQ in the end of May, I have only had a total of 3 anxiety attacks that I could not control. I now know great deep breathing techniques and body exercises to limit my anxiety to get any farther. I had one therapist tell me “we fear the fear of anxiety” and that has stuck with me forever. I can now tell my triggers, and when I am getting anxiety.

I feel like a whole new person.  My ability to love myself with no one else and to accept the help that I need and want to do well is something I never felt before.  I’m now at a place where I have taken control of my life, and I could not be happier.  I’m convinced Pacific Quest saved my life, and helped me understand how amazing it is to be on this earth and how lucky I am to have gone to a place like that, and be able to grow from it.  It is and will always be a memorable experience I will never forget and will forever be grateful for.

October 13, 2014

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PQ Alumni Student to Speak at Upcoming Sky’s The Limit Fund’s 5th Anniversary Breakfast

Pacific Quest is pleased to announce alumni student, Daniel Wallock will be a featured speaker at Sky’s The Limit Fund’s 5th Anniversary Breakfast, Thursday, October 30 in Palo Alto, California. Daniel will share his story and how his experience at Pacific Quest changed his life.

Daniel is an award-winning, published author, presently attending college in Vermont. His nonfiction piece, “Breathe“, written about his childhood, won an honorable mention in Marlboro College’s Beautiful Minds Challenge. In December 2013, his creative nonfiction short story, “This Very Breath“, was published in The Bolt Magazine. San Jose State University’s, The Bolt Magazine also awarded Daniel First Place in its International Nonfiction Contest. In January, 2014 Daniel received a Gold Key Award, the highest regional honor, in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Daniel’s latest book, “Right-Hearted: Finding What’s Right With a Wrong-Sided Heart” is currently available on Amazon. Since May, 2014 his Kindle books have been downloaded over 6,500 times.

“I am very excited to be apart of this event! I am very much in support of kids getting the help they need – especially through therapeutic wilderness, which I believe, was an invaluable experience,” Daniel shares. 

Pacific Quest is proud to support Sky’s The Limit Fund, a non-profit organization that transforms the lives of at-risk youth by providing grants, support, and hope, through wilderness therapy programs and beyond. To donate, please visit

March 21, 2013

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Essay From Former Student

Below, is a college essay from a former student at Pacific Quest…we are always grateful to hear from past students as they continue on their journey.
I was fourteen years old and terrified. I had traveled eight hours by plane to Hawaii, driven three hours up and around the Kilauea volcano with a stranger, and finally landed at my new home, Pacific Quest. My eyes took in towering papaya trees surrounded by tomatoes, lettuce, and budding bananas. My nose juggled the many scents enveloping me: basil, oregano, wet firewood amidst the drizzling rain. As beautiful as it was, I knew this was no vacation. After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, my parents knew I needed an alternative approach to transform my life. They decided on Pacific Quest, a wilderness program for teens where organic farming symbolized how we should nurture ourselves. The goal was to recognize that I, like the plants, was fragile and needed care in order to flourish. Initially, I resisted the program. I didn’t need this. The gardening metaphor was too simple. It wouldn’t work for me. Sensing my doubt, the staff put me in charge of the nursery. The youngest most vulnerable shoots were the future of our sustainability. At Pacific Quest, we ate what we grew. If I neglected the plants, the entire community would suffer. The nursery was a mess, containers strewn everywhere, the floor soaking with leaking hoses, young seedlings in need of help. I immediately thought, why me?Yet my innate drive to work hard spurred me to take ownership of the nursery. I stabilized the hoses so the plants would receive the precise amount of water to help them grow. Too much and the young shoots would drown; the perfect balance was needed. It was clear I had found my place. As silly as I initially thought the idea was, I quickly learned to take care of myself the way I took care of the nursery. After 52 days, my counselors and parents decided I was strong enough to take these lessons with me. I was excited to move on to the next step of my journey. I had learned to love myself and to be happy with who I was and who I would become. I knew I was a dynamic person with much to offer. At Pacific Quest, I created an intent, a self-affirmation of who I am and what I want to be. “Through confidence, I am a respectful and trustworthy young woman who loves, listens, and accepts herself.” Packing the soil around the young shoots, I repeated this mantra often. Today, they are words I live by and continue to strive to uphold. Learning to love and accept myself was my first step toward being able to make a difference in the lives of others. Now, I volunteer with the Trevor Project, a crisis hotline for LGBT youth. Through TrevorChat, the instant messaging hotline, I am able to help teenagers who are dealing with similar issues that I faced just a few years back. Although, as a fourteen-year-old, I had felt incredibly strong, I was still just a shoot who needed to recognize the importance of letting others help me so I could grow. Now, I water the seedlings that come to me, ready to discover their own intent.

-Faith F.

December 21, 2012

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Embracing Change In the New Year

By Kelly Weld, Therapist

The holiday season is a significant time for many of us.  It is a time to gather family and send love to those far away. It is a time to appreciate spirit and acknowledge the sacred within and among us.  It is a time to consider the year that has past, and create intentions for the year ahead.  According to calendars both current and ancient, it is a time of great change and possibility.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramThis creative potential is ours to unearth both individually and collectively, and I am grateful to be part of that here at Reeds Bay.  Our young adult facility, located on the Hilo shores, has been operating for approximately five months.  I work exclusively in this program, and so intimately know its process.

Here, I have seen many students struggle and then learn to connect with their innate resiliency, shining with the confidence that only comes from earned pride.  I have seen the results of hard work; our gardens are thriving to support our physical and emotional health.  Not only do we harvest much of the food that sustains us in these gardens, we also cultivate a soothing and inspiring environment.  Within these grounds lie student-initiated projects (including ceremonial labyrinths and fire circles).  It is the students’ ownership of this process- their offering towards the land and their community- which transforms their inner landscapes.

A recent Reeds Bay graduate (who lost 40+ lbs in her stay here) wrote this piece about the personal change that inevitably occurs within our lifetime.  Her words articulate her own awakening, and the reasons I am grateful to work as a therapist at Pacific Quest.

“I think it’s safe to say that a good portion of our New Year’s resolutions have to do with change: losing weight, advancement in a job, going after a dream, etc.  What I find most interesting is that when it comes down to the wire, change is hard and change is scary. Somewhere within the year(s) we’ve become comfortable with the status quo (regardless if it’s really comfortable).  I find people who believe that if they have the latest and greatest (insert object, fad, or appearance) they will finally be happy because of x,y, or z.  It’s external reliance, and more people are left wondering why that ‘thing’ isn’t making them truly happy.  It’s obvious to me that people are afraid to look inside themselves.  What’s funny is that looking at your true self, and dealing with your true self, will lead to more peace, happiness, and wholeness.

If there is a theme that the universe gives us it would be change: the very thing we are afraid of.  A tree starts out as a seed, grows rooted and grounded in itself, then grows toward the sky. Even trees endure change over the course of their lifetime.   Humans are built to evolve from the moment of conception. Nature as a whole forces change upon us regardless of our feelings about it. Time keeps us moving forward, because even time changes.

Humans have evolved so much as a species with language and mediums of art and technology, yet we are so slow to evolve emotionally.  More people avoid and resist their emotions. That’s like trying to resist the coming of the sunrise.  Change and emotions come at you regardless if you want it to or not. So why not embrace change and the inevitable future ahead?   Work with change, not against it. Work with your emotions, not against them.

Changing your exercise and dietary habits is hard, but in the end, it is worth it; happiness is the exact same way.  Looking deep within yourself is scary and hard to face.  Yet at the end of the day, people who seek to understand and work on their true self, are worth more than anything money can buy”.

Kimberly W, Age 23

We wish you the courage to seek true insight and happiness in the upcoming year, and may we share that together.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”. – JF Kennedy

April 29, 2012

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Life is What You Make of it

By Kelly Weld, Therapist

Being a counselor at an intervention program is a challenging and rewarding task. When students arrive they are lost and desperate, their families are in crisis, and it is our job to help re-align the system in a relatively short period of time. The process Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programfeels first like a roller-coaster (with intense highs and lows) and then a waltz (three steps forward, one step back).  Our program incorporates a beautiful balance of emotional intensity (via impact letters, difficult leadership roles, peer feedback groups) and personal tranquility (via living and working in the gardens, participating in relaxation and meditation groups, taking care of our bodies through yoga and nutrition, etc).  And through that balance, a shift occurs…which makes my job gratifying beyond words.

I recently graduated a young woman who came to PQ kicking and screaming.  She tried everything to avoid the process, and wanted only to retrieve her too-stuffed suitcase (she arrived with five separate purses!!!) and go back to her comfortable, though unhappy, life.  When she realized that she was not leaving, that her parents were not rescuing her, she finally surrendered…and the dance began.  A week before she left, she wrote the following letter to future PQ students which beautifully articulates why I keep coming back for more.

“I am writing this to the people struggling at Pacific Quest. I am writing this because I wish that someone would have written this to me. No matter who you are, or where you come from, it’s hard to be out of your comfort zone. Pacific Quest, from my perspective, is way out of any teenager or young adults’ comfort zone. You might have been lied to in order to get here, you might have been told you were going on a short vacation, you may have gotten woken up in the middle of the night by transporters, you may not have gotten any forewarning at all. The truth is hard to hear. You are here now and no matter how badly you freak out, how hard you cry, or how sick you pretend to be, therePacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program is nothing you can do about it. You also need to realize its okay to freak out and cry. It’s normal. It’s almost expected. Just know your first and hardest job is to get past it! You have to accept it, embrace it, and know from that day forward, your life will be a lot more manageable. What helped me was thinking about the way I had been living my life. I realize now that if I had not come to Pacific Quest I very likely would not be alive right now. One of my favorite quotes from Pacific Quest is that “We are most likely to end up where we are headed, unless we change direction.” That quote applies perfectly to Pacific Quest and why we are here. We were sent here to change direction so we could end up in a better place. We were sent here because someone cared. We are here for ourselves. We are here to learn how to live again. Just know that anything is possible. Your stay here is not about length, or boarding school, or home. Your stay here is what you make of it. And to me, it’s worth it”.

Past PQ Student

April 24, 2012

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Rites-of-Passage Story Council

By Lindsey Baldwin, Therapist

One of the best parts of my job as a therapist at Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program is being a part of the Rites of Passage story council on Thursday mornings. On these mornings, students return from a two-day ceremony and share their experience with a group of peers.  My role in the story council is to “mirror” aspects of a students Rites of Passage story to highlight symbolism, parallel it to the “hero’s journey”, and reflect on a students statement of intent. During these stories, students Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programshare insights into themselves that make me laugh, tear up and reflect on how much they’ve gained from their experience at PQ. They walk away from the stories, carrying a mask, a lei, artwork, and new insight into themselves. This experience signifies severing from their old destructive patterns and behaviors. The culmination of this ceremony happens when students cross over the threshold and return to their community to share the gifts they have learned about themselves with their PQ Ohana. These stories aren’t just powerful experiences for me, as a clinician for an outdoor therapeutic program, but for other students in the Ohana who serve as witnesses to their experience. Below is a student’s reflection on the rites of passage story council she heard for the first time last week:

By Emma, current Ohana student:
“So today is my third day in the Ohana. This morning two students returned and spoke about their experiences in Rights of Passage (ROP). I’m very lucky to have heard these students speak about their experiences so early on in my time in this Ohana. I feel like I witnessed some kind of magic. Listening to one of the students, I could not help but tear up. Seeing a man who has enough strength to open up and allow himself to be vulnerable and cry is not something I have seen many times in my life. And evenPacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program though I was just meeting him, I felt so proud. It is evident how much work and effort both students have put towards better understanding themselves. The other student who shared his story felt that ROP was a ceremony that reinforced and brought together all that he had already been working on, here at PQ. As he worded it, a “re-relization.” I could relate a lot to these students emotions and attitudes. In my time here I have also come to understand things about myself that have literally changed my life. Mainly that I want to live this life and love and embrace it, which I am on a path of learning to do. Hearing these students, who have come so far, and having come so far myself, gives me an immense amount of hope for the future and what it has to bring. Both theirs and my own.” 

March 17, 2012

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The Ohana’s Choice

By Tom De Trolio, Outing Supervisor

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramRecently, the Ohana took an adventure to Honomalino Bay which lies 2,000ft down the scenic 5 mile road leading to Miloli’i, one of the last ancient fishing villages to rely on fishing as a way of life. From the town of Miloli’i, the group hiked about a half mile past the ancient ruins ranging from rock walls, fishing heiaus (sacred sites), and old grave sites of Hawaiians who once lived along this coast, possibly during the late 1700’s. Students were intrigued to learn about the Hawaiian Kapu system (law system), and still see people using signs referring to Kapu today.

Swimming, snorkeling, writing PQ in lava rocks on the sand, underwater photos, throwing the football, and knocking coconuts down were all experiences made possible by a choice the students made together before they left camp. With three newPacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program members of the group entering camp within the last two days, the elder students wanted to teach the expectations and guidelines by holding a meeting at the Fire Circle.

The Fire Circle is a place for therapeutic groups, curriculum lessons, dinner around a fire, ceremonies, and a safe place to express emotions with intention. Although they were ready to go on time, the Ohana made a choice to role model, mentor, and have fun while accepting that their outing time would be cut short due to their meeting. By choosing to let go of control over time, the Ohana took back control for what they stand for.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramOne student stated, “I’m glad we chose to have that meeting this morning. The outing was less stressful for me, we didn’t have to stop and go over anything. We knew why we were there, who we were as students with PQ, and how to act in certain situations.”

Choice gives us control over our lives by allowing us to actively participate in its making. Choice provides us the opportunity to make the most of whatever life throws our way. Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program presents each student with the freedom to make choices for their needs and wants, as well as an opportunity to better understand who they are and what they stand for. Sustainable GrowthTM is a choice. A choice to better ourselves, the Ohana, and the gardens we choose to care for.

June 6, 2011

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Defining “kuleana”

The Hawaiian term “kuleana” is quite difficult to define.  The literal translation, as I have heard, is “responsibility.” Kuleana means much more than that, as it seems to include a broader sense of responsibility –  a person’s responsibility to themselves and his/her community.  At PQ, we have named the second stage of growth Kuleana.  We have created a camp that aims to teach students that their kuleana for themselves will be a foundation to how they can interact with their families and communities.  In the second stage of growth we help students “claiming their kuleana” by practicing self honesty, accountability, integrity, and developing healthy coping skills to manage uncomfortable emotions.  This is usually evident in the way that their actions and words align.

I asked a group of PQ students to define what kuleana means to them and how that particular camp (or stage of growth) provided skills for life.  Below is the description produced by the group.

Kuleana means responsibility.  Responsibility means taking accountability for your own actions.  It applies to life in every single way.  Some struggles that we’ve encountered here have just been accepting that we’re here and that we needed to start being present and actually be responsible for our own actions here.  It also applies to  being responsible for past actions. 

Some tools I’ve learned while in Kuleana were exercising when becoming anxious or pissed off.  Journaling is another good toll for many people.  It helps getting out emotions and it relieves stress as well.  Being honest with ourselves and focusing on things that are in our control were two really good lessons.

You have to be responsible for yourself in order to keep your self. If you have a job then you have to be responsible for your work or else you will get fired.  responsibility is one of the key factors of becoming and being an adult.

I am really impressed by the students embodiment of kuleana.  They seem to be applying it much beyond the simplistic term “responsibility.”